Charles Henry Owen was born March 28, 1887 to Joseph Henry Owen and Mary Abigail Grow Owen in Camas, Idaho. His father worked on the railroad there, but since it kept him away from home so much, he decided to try farming. Joseph and his five brothers filed on homesteads in Ammon, Idaho. The family moved there in 1890.
Charles was born a 4th generation member of the LDS church on his mother's side. Many of his family members were influential members of the church including his great-grandfather Henry Grow who designed the Tabernacle building at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, as well as holding influential positions within the church. His grandfather, James Colgrove Owen, was a member of the Mormon Battalion, and was stationed at Sutter’s Mill in California, when gold was discovered. James, however, didn’t remain to join in the Gold Rush, but returned to Salt Lake at the call of the church.
Charles was very close to his father and loved him dearly. He wrote:
“I loved my father almost to a worship. He was somewhat shy and quiet, but had the complete respect of his children. I never heard a harsh word from him and yet his wish or request was law to me.”
His father died of health complications on April 18th, 1902, when Charles was only 15 years old. It was hard for him as a young man.
The next year, in 1903, he stayed with his grandparents Owen in Ogden and attended Weber Academy under David O. McKay as the Principal. After attending for a couple of years, when he was about 18, he dropped out of school as a result of some negative influences in his life, and got a job working with individuals of lower character. Without a father to guide him, his mother asked for help from David O. McKay, a close family friend. By then it was 1906, the year David O. McKay became an Apostle.
“Three things kept me in line during that time–my mother’s influence, the teachings of Brother McKay, and the disgusting things I saw other workers do and heard them say. … That fall when I returned home, I received a call to take the missionary course at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. I suppose my mother had talked to the bishop. She and I went to Salt Lake City to attend the October conference. She made it a point to see Brother McKay, since she was raised in Huntsville near the McKays. When he saw me, he said, ‘Charles, why weren’t you in school last year.’ I had no alibi, so he said for me to be in school Monday. I told him of the missionary call and he replied, ‘I’ll take care of the missionary call. You be in school Monday.’ He was then an Apostle. … I graduated in the spring of 1908, Brother McKay’s last year of teaching. … He was a wonderful teacher. I thoroughly enjoyed being under the influence of his pleasing, spiritual personality. He told me to remind him of the missionary call when I graduated. I did so and received a call to the Eastern States Mission. I was to report to the mission office on October 14th, so I worked on the farm during the summer. I became engaged to Bessie Kingston at this time.”
Charles Owen became acquainted with Charles and Mary Priscilla Kingston and their daughter Betsy when the Kingston family moved to Ammon. Betsy’s brother Richard Kingston had also attended Weber Academy and he and Charles had roomed together. Charles and Betsy started dating and he eventually proposed to her. They decided to get married after his return from his mission.
Charles was on his mission from the fall of 1908 to the fall of 1910. He was placed in charge of the New York Conference of the Eastern States Mission for 8 months, then was made President of the Brooklyn Conference, under Mission President Ben E. Rich. While there, they traveled without Purse or Script, a practice that had largely been done away with by the Church. The practice had recently been reinstated in the Eastern States Mission as a result of Charles W. Kingston, who had completed his mission there shortly before Charles Owen arrived. After arriving home, Charles and Betsy were married in the Salt Lake Temple by Anthony H. Lund on September 15, 1910. He was 23 years old and Betsy was 22.
In 1920, Charles was presented with an opportunity in California. They sold the farm, receiving $1000.00 down payment and started for California. By this time, Betsy’s parents were living in Ogden, Utah and she wanted to stop there to visit with them before going on to California. That night, they went to a movie, leaving all their possessions in the car. When they came out, the car was gone. It was never recovered. Due to the fact that the country was in a serious recession they also lost the equity on the farm they had sold. With this and the loss of their car and possessions, they had to give up the plan to go to California. Charles had been a school teacher in Idaho and decided to try to teach public school in Utah with his teaching certificate.
In 1924, they changed the laws to require a Bachelor's degree to teach. He decided against going for the degree and looked for other work. He began working for Charles Zitting selling mining stocks and in doing so became acquainted with a number of individuals in the fundamentalist movement including Marion Brown, Roy Wilson, Price Johnson and others.
Charles Zitting, who worked for Charles Kingston as a young man, was the one who introduced Charles Owen to the fundamentalist movement with the help of Roy Wilson.
In the words of Charles Owen:
“Since my health was a little below par, though I was not ill, Wilson began by asking why, being a good Mormon, I did not keep the Word of Wisdom. I said I did keep that law and did not use tea, coffee, liquor or tobacco. He said, ‘That’s only a part of the Word of Wisdom. The 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants plainly states that those who live that law will be healthy.’ He then went into the subject, I had to admit, quite thoroughly and efficiently. Having made his point on the Word of Wisdom, he went into other ordinances and principles not being lived in the church, and led up to plural marriage.
During the interview, I had no argument with him on his views on the Word of Wisdom, but on other matters, especially on plural marriage, I opposed him strenuously. After considerable argument I left, very indignant. I fully intended to sever all connections with Zitting, but, and this puzzled me very much, I had a strong urge to go back and talk with Wilson again. The urge grew stronger, and I felt that I must visit Wilson again. After several days, I got hold of Zitting… This time, Wilson went immediately into the subject of plural marriage. He was well versed in scripture and had made a thorough study of all church books and church history, including certain revelations to John Taylor not included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Suffice it to say, I was convinced that I wanted to study it further. The people who believed that it should be lived at that time were holding meetings quite regularly. Therefore, I decided to attend the meetings to learn more about it. I had learned that a number of men who were living plural marriage had apparently failed to convert their wives, and that their wives had left them. Not wishing to lose my wife, I asked her to attend the meetings with me, and told her ‘If I ever live that principle, you will be the one to say we should live it, and you will name the girl.’
Those who were holding meetings claimed in general that the church had not only abandoned plural marriage, but had made other changes, such as the garment and conferring the priesthood. They claimed the Manifesto was not a revelation, and that some of the general authorities had recently lived or were then living plural marriage. I remembered that when I was on my mission and was close to Pres. Ben E. Rich, he confided to me that the mission mother known as Aunt Martha was his plural wife. This was in 1910, twenty years after the Manifesto was issued. Furthermore, I knew that the positive part of the Word of Wisdom, as Wilson explained it, was not being taught or lived generally in the Church.
Although Charles was still not living plural marriage, in time, he had a dream that he felt convinced him in favor of plural marriage.
My wife agreed to attend the meetings with me and we prayed together.... My wife and I changed our eating habits to include whole wheat flour and wholesome fresh foods, and eliminated desserts, white flour and sugar, soft drinks and even meat and canned foods. Bessie learned how to prepare foods so that we really enjoyed them. Our health did improve and all trace of my stomach ulcers and appendicitis disappeared. The other members of the family had similar experiences. Within two years, the children seemed immune from colds and children’s diseases.”
In the spring of 1927, Charles and Bessie moved to a home near Mrs. Nita Cox. She was a remarried widow who had two daughters that were already living plural marriage, and a single daughter named Earline Hull. As the families became more acquainted, Earline and her mother let Charles know of her interest. About the same time, Charles’ wife, Betsy, let him know that she had been praying about things. She was certain that they should live the law, and she knew that Earline was the girl.
“The ceremony was performed in 1928 by a man who had been closely associated with President John Taylor, and who, we were certain had the authority to seal us for time and eternity. … Earline had studied Spanish in high school and loved the language. She learned to play the Spanish guitar and sing in Spanish. When her first child was born, we named him Carlos (Spanish for Charles). Earline had a gentle but outgoing personality. She admired Bessie’s quiet way with her children. Bessie rarely had to physically punish them, and she had such control over them that a frown usually got results. Earline asked Bessie to teach her the same gentle manner with her own children. Bessie was very considerate of Earline to the point that she refused to buy a new winter coat when I told her to, unless Earline could have one too. Earline was also considerate of Bessie, showing her respect and working in harmony with her in the home.
Sometime after Earline began living with us, someone reported us to the President of the Millcreek Stake. I was called to the office of Pres. Daynes and questioned by him. I felt that I was living a higher principle and that I should live it quietly and not admit to anyone that I was living polygamy. Consequently, I admitted nothing. He made an appointment for me to see Apostle [James E.] Talmage. Again, I admitted nothing, though he did try to get me to. When he failed to get an admission, he became impatient and said, ‘I don’t know why you are here, I didn’t send for you. This is not your trial, but you will get a trial, you may be sure.’ It seemed certain to me that I would be tried, and very likely excommunicated.
In the meantime, I had written an article on the fullness of the Gospel, including plural marriage. I decided to go to Brother David O. McKay, then an apostle, and made an appointment for the following week. I told him what had happened, and of course he told me I was wrong. I gave a copy of my article and asked him to read it and then tell me if I was wrong. He asked me to come back in one week. When I came back, he said I had written an excellent article; that it was still wrong to live plural marriage now. He added, ‘Since you have taken another wife.’ I interrupted him, saying, ‘But I haven’t said that I have.’ Then he said, ‘I know you haven’t and I don’t want you to. I can help you better if you don’t.’ I asked him this question, ‘If I were living it, would you advise me to send the woman out of my home?’ He replied, ‘No, every bit of manhood in my nature would rebel against that, but there should be no more children.’ I was not brought to trial and heard no more from the authorities on the matter.”
The Great Depression hit in 1929 and Charles worked various jobs throughout the Depression to support his family. One man he worked for went broke and ended up paying him in flour, so he used the flour to pay others to do work for him. One job he offered on a farm in Cottonwood was ditch digging during 1930-1931. One of his hires was his brother-in-law, Charles W. Kingston, who was working on his book “Laman Manasseh Victorious” during that time.
1931 was a tough year for Charles. He lost his job and had to give up his car. Then, his wife, Betsy, died on May 24, 1931, one day after the birth of a baby girl. They named the baby Bessie after her mother's nickname. Earline was a wonderful mother and took Betsy’s children in as her own. She continued to strive to raise them in a way she knew would please Betsy, even though she had passed. Charles’ family changed houses and jobs regularly over the next few years.
In 1932, the family became acquainted with Delsa Edgel. Delsa’s mother was a counselor in the LDS Relief Society, and Delsa was about 22 years old at the time. Delsa was very interested in marrying Charles, but her parents were opposed to it. Earline thought a great deal of Delsa and she agreed to it as well. Delsa married Charles Owen without her father's blessing. They were married on September 18, 1934, by a man they believed had the necessary authority.
Charles and his family continued trying to survive throughout the great depression. In the spring of 1935, Charles Owen began a United Effort Project he called the “Service Exchange” with members of the fundamentalist movement to try and help many of those that were still struggling from the effects of the Great Depression. It wasn’t as successful as he had hoped it would be. He continued to have a desire to live United Order as taught in the Doctrine and Covenants and tried to assist different leaders of the Fundamentalist Movement in doing so, with little success. Charles wrote:
“To live the fullness of the gospel, I believed we should also learn to live the United Order. When I learned that Elden Kingston’s group were actually trying to live the United Order, I felt that it was the opportunity that I was looking for, and we joined them.”
They joined on July 4th, 1937 and moved to Lyman, Wyoming with another family who was a part of the DCCS. On September 2, 1937 of that year, Charles’ wife, Earline Hull Owen, passed away in childbirth. It felt like lightning struck the family twice. But they had the DCCS community to support them through this time. Charles Owen told Elden Kingston that he didn’t feel he could remain in Wyoming, but he felt obligated to finish harvesting the hay. His family moved down to Salt Lake, while he finished in Wyoming. One night, while he was alone and feeling low, he heard a voice, through the thin walls, on the other side of the house that his neighbors lived in. Charles said it was like the voice of an angel. It was Burke Frandsen teaching the other family about the scriptures and why they were living the principles of United Order. Hearing this speech brought Charles’ spirit back to life, and he decided to remain there in Wyoming and brought his family back.
Charles Owen remained in the Co-op for many years. He was one of the original incorporators in 1941 and remained on the Governing Board for a time. He also loved Elden Kingston very much and had a lot of respect for him during the years prior to his death.
Charles' son Wendell Owen related:
“My Father used to tell this story about Bro. Elden; after the farmers [in Wyoming] had all harvested their grain they would all get together to help each other run the threshing machine. Whichever farm they were on, that’s who was in charge of the crew. Bro. Elden had come out to Wyoming to help with this crew. … One of the neighbors, as he was assigning jobs, didn’t know Bro. Elden. So, he assigned all the easier jobs to the ones he knew, and when he got to Bro. Elden, he said, ‘And this fella can go out and pitch!’ (Pitching was one of the hardest and most strenuous jobs of the whole crew.) My father, in telling the story, would mention the humility Bro. Elden had. He did not say, ‘Why should I have a job like that?’ … As my father would say, as he was telling the story, ‘And so that fella went out and pitched!’”
Charles Owen took over a farm in Saratoga Springs in 1942, entering into a contract along with the DCCS and a man named Mr. Mathis. It did very well to begin with. In 1945, they planted a celery crop, which was quite profitable for the farm, creating lots of excitement. Wendell stated that his father, Charles and his business partner, Mr. Mathis, were excited to do celery again the next year. Elden Kingston, representing the DCCS, frequently cautioned against it, thinking it would not do so well again. Charles decided to take his chances. That year, many Utah farmers tried to cash in on the celery profits and flooded the market, dropping the celery value. The farm went broke. There became a rift between Charles and Mr. Mathis and the financial difficulties began to cause strain with the business partners, including the Co-op.
Regarding the events, Wendell, wrote:
“When Mr. Mathis saw what was happening to the price, he switched sides, claiming he was against it to start with and blamed it all on my father. He [Mathis] sold the property and [the DCCS] had to go to court with him to collect their share of the selling price. An auction was held to liquidate the farm equipment and we [were] left in debt, about $9,400 more than we had … quite a lot in those days. I told my father I was a partner in it, and I paid half. Carlos was grown by that time and he paid one third of the total leaving our father with about 17 percent of the total."
Wendell would often talk with him at this time. Charles would tell him he realized the outcome was as fair and accurate as it could have been, given the circumstance. However, it was quite difficult to handle the financial loss.
In 1952, Charles Owen made the decision to leave the Cooperative. Betsy's grown children Wendell & Carol and Earline's sons at the time, including Carlos, chose to remain in the DCCS. Carol Owen had married a man in the Co-op named Ray Brown. The family remained on good terms with their father and visited with him regularly until his death. Charles Owen passed away June 28, 1984 at 97.
Copyright © Davis County Cooperative Society